Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Garden Books and Growing Knowledge

Before I had my own house and yard, I would "garden" by going to the Barnes & Noble magazine section and drool over the beautiful photographs gracing the pages of Sunset, Garden Design, Gardens Illustrated, Fine Gardening, and Country Gardens.  Over the years I also collected a number of books according to my garden interest of the moment, but the key was the book had to have inspiring photos.  I always wanted to see examples of how plants were used in design.  I rarely purchased text only books.  All my garden books would eventually end up on the shelf until I needed to look something specific up or wanted some inspiration for a specific design project.

When we started our kitchen garden, I would pull out books that had beautiful photos of vegetable gardens.  After the beds were built and we started buying starts and seeds, I started using my books to research different varieties and the basics of how to grow specific veggies and then how and when to harvest and store them.  Now, I primarily use books to research pests, diseases and cultural problems.  I am always amazed how the answers to my gardening problems and questions were always there in my books.  I've had many of these books for years, but never knew that the information I would gloss over initially would suddenly have a practical application in my garden.  I guess that is the difference between having book knowledge and practical experience.   I love it when the two meet.  It's kind of like layering a compost pile.  Start with a little knowledge, add a layer of experience, add another layer of knowledge, layer on more experience, etc.  The pile heats up, melds together and you get a beautiful rich blend that becomes a resource itself to be spread around.

A few books that I found little value in several years ago have now become my absolute favorites when it comes to my kitchen garden.  They don't have any photos in them, by the way.

1. The Gardener's Table by Merrill & Ortiz has been my best resource for growing vegetables.  The "Vegetable Compendium" has just the right amount of information.  The vegetables are divided into three main categories:  "Underground Vegetables," "Leaves, Stems, and Stalks," and "Fruiting Vegetables."  These are broken down further into groups and then into individual vegetables.  Each vegetable has information on its background, cultivation, planting, soils and fertilizers, diseases, pests, cultural problems, varieties, and harvest and storage.  Then at the end of each section is a table of recommended varieties and a summary of growing tips.

While I use the Vegetable Compendium a lot, a third of the book is dedicated to teaching you how to plan and design a kitchen garden and growing organically.  The other third of the book teaches you how to set up a kitchen and offers recipes and tips so you can best utilize what you grow.

I bought this book back in 2001 or 2002, left it at my parents house and forgot about it until 2008 when we were really getting into growing veggies.  It is absolutely the best.  The more experienced I get at gardening the more I realize how great it is.

2. The Maritime Northwest Garden Guide produced by Seattle Tilth is my favorite book for locally based information.  Once again, I was first exposed to this book back in 2001.  I didn't think much of it until last year, when my husband received it as a gift.  If we would have got it three years ago, it would have helped A LOT.  It organizes information by month.  So basically all you have to do is look up the month, and it gives a brief description of what's going on in that month, provides pertinent lists of recommended varieties of vegetables, flowers, and herbs under headings like "Sow Outdoors," "Sow Under a Cloche," "Sow Indoors to Transplant."  After the lists there are articles on topics that are relevant to that month.  Also, there is a list of local resources in the back.

I recommend this guide to everyone growing in our region.  Gardening knowledge is essentially tied to local conditions.  That is why I am always perplexed when friends and family in other parts of the country ask for plant advice.  When we visited my in-law's garden in Tennessee last year, I was shocked how many pests they were battling that we never see in Western Washington.

3.  Terrific Tomatoes, Sensational Spuds, and Mouth-Watering Melons by Jerry Baker is a book that my parents bought in 2001 that I thought looked really cheesy.  However, I remembered watching Jerry Baker on TV once where he was demonstrating how to make your own plant tonics with common household products.  So, I borrowed my parent's book to see if it had the recipes and I was astonished with how fun it was to read and how valuable the information was.  It has all the information you wished your grandparents would have passed on to you if they had been masterful gardeners.  Apparently Jerry Baker had one of those grandmothers that was a fabulous gardener.   It has a lot of the same growing information that you might get in other reference books, but it reads like a real down-to-earth experienced gardener with a great sense of humor wrote it.

So, those are my three favorites.  I haven't bought any new books in years, but I know a lot of new ones have come out recently.  Which books have been most helpful in your kitchen garden?


  1. Growing Vegetables in the Pacific Northwest, Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener's Handbook and Landscaping with Fruits and Vegetables are my 3 favorites for edible gardens.

    I'm like you, love books with photos, but the ones I use the most have either drawings or just text.

  2. I’ve a Steve Solomon fan, for certain. His Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades is far and away my favorite, most reliable source. In addition to his books, his current Soil and Health Library is full of books and papers from ancient to modern times. It is eye opening to read books and papers written prior to the rise of modern fertilizers. I also read John Seymour (The New Self-Sufficient Gardener), Nancy Bubel (The New Seed Starter’s Handbook), and Eliot Coleman. I mostly read Eliot’s books in order to foster dreams of growing a market garden.